I wanted to take my time today to say goodbye to an old friend.
Many of you have no doubt heard of Doctor Susan Wicklund. Susan is a long time abortion provider who for many years travelled throughout the upper Midwest to serve women in need. She generally spent most of her time in Minnesota and North Dakota. What made Susan unique is that she was, as far as I knew, the first abortion provider to go public about how anti-abortion terrorists were stalking her, her family and her colleagues. She “came out” years ago in a “Sixty Minutes” interview that shocked many people who did not know that anti-abortion zealots were following doctors like her through airports, sitting on her front porch at night, calling her home at all hours and terrorizing not just her but her daughter.
After the “Sixty Minutes” episode, the public – including the Clinton Administration – was suddenly much more informed of what was going on out and how a campaign of domestic terrorism was being waged against these doctors and their staff. Unfortunately, not much was done because the Administration and their lawyers said there was no federal jurisdiction over these kinds of activities and that it was up to local police to enforce the laws – which they didn’t do. Only until Doctor David Gunn was murdered did our friends in the Administration start to pay attention and it still took the assassination of another doctor, John Britton, a year later to get the Congress to pass a law giving the federal government jurisdiction over such crimes.
But Susan was the first one out there.
She really didn’t fit the role. She is not a rabble rouser. Yet, she was suddenly thrust into the limelight and became a reluctant spokesperson for the pro-choice cause. Her soft, Midwest demeanor took people aback but her words and her experiences were terrifying.
Years later, Susan wrote about her experiences in her book “This Common Secret.” I’m not sure how well it sold. And I’m thrilled that she has promised to autograph her book for me.
But now Susan is leaving the field. A few years ago, she opened up the Mountain Country Women’s Clinic in Livingston, Montana. She was the kind of doctor who would take the calls herself, who would come in after hours to help a woman in need. She kept her prices artificially low to help women. And that probably hurt her. She often lived paycheck to paycheck.
But, true to form, when she called me the other day to tell me she was closing her office her major concern was who would take care of her patients once she was gone. She was dismayed that they will have to travel a lot further to find reproductive services and that the fees will be higher. But because of personal reasons, she has to shut down the clinic and stop practicing medicine for the time being. She is 59 years old.
I plan on staying in touch with Susan but I want to thank her personally for what she did for my family one Sunday night many years ago.
My late father was a good ole Irish Catholic. He didn’t wear it on his sleeve, didn’t go to church much. But he was a believer. And for many years, while I was running the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, he didn’t say much about my work. Indeed, his silence was deafening and I always had the feeling that he was uncomfortable about who I was representing.
The day Susan gave her interview, we watched the show together in his Myrtle Beach condo. As Susan talked about the terrorism, my father didn’t say a word. He was mesmerized. When it was over, he turned to me and said “I had no idea this was going on and I can see why you want to help these people. Good for you.”
You’ve touched many people in more ways than you know.